On the joy of depressing books…
There are some books that aren’t meant for the Monday morning commute. They’re not for optimism-destroying British winters. Anything with more than a smattering of misery should be saved for reading in glorious surroundings, when one can suspend the misery for a swim, an icy glass of rosé, a trip to a market to buy unnecessary trinkets. Where you can look up and see sunshine, blue sky, and beauty (or at least not the view of grey skies, pollution stained buildings and back to back traffic that I have from my office window).
On one of our first holidays together, my partner gave looked on in bewilderment as I shrieked with joy at discovering Paolo Coehlo’s “Veronika Decides to Die” in a hotel library. The book charts the aftermath of Veronika’s failed suicide attempt, where upon waking and finding herself detained in a psychiatric institution, she’s told she has caused irreparable damage to her heart, and only has a few days to live. No spoilers, but there are uplifting moments. Within this genre there might not always be redemption, but there are often moments of joy, or events that give one faith in humanity. And they’re so much easier to identify when you’re in a positive, happy, stress free environment.
Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning “A Little Life” would have broken me if I’d read it at home. It’s the sort of book that needs to be devoured in a short space of time, not strung out over a series of commutes. I read it lounging around the pool at a villa in Bali. The privacy gave me the ability to cry without inhibition, and towards the end, to dissolve into great wracking sobs (just say “Willem, listening to Jude tell a story” to me, and watch me weep all over again). But it also gave me the headspace and the emotional resilience to absorb it, to read about the horror, yet see the beauty and the paean to friendship in all its different forms.
The Goldfinch’s epic tale of sorrow and loss following an explosion in an art gallery spans decades, and the period in which the teenage main protagonist is taken to live in Las Vegas by his largely-absent father is heart-breaking for its depiction of the intimate friendship between two boys left to run feral, bereft of any parental love or attention. It could have used some editing, but speeding through the unnecessarily lengthy descriptions of drug taking so you can immerse yourself in the next batch of woe is less frustrating when you haven’t wasted half of your commute doing it.
So bring me books full of angst, obsessions, yearning, loves lost, lives half-lived, tragedies endured. And ideally, a plane ticket to a Thai beach, some tissues, and a cocktail with an umbrella in it.
Top 5 Heart-wrenching Holiday Reads
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
The Hours – Michael Cunningham
A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale
Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro